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Rise of the machines as Limerick break Galway

Shane Stapleton was at Croke Park to see the All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final clash of Limerick v Galway

Shane Stapleton was at Croke Park to see the All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final clash of Limerick v Galway.

Limerick 2-24 Galway 1-18 All-Ireland SHC semi-final
Limerick are back into their fifth All-Ireland final in six years after a resounding win over Galway at Croke Park.

Aaron Gillane routed the Tribe for 2-6 (0-5f) and 11 other teammates got on the scoresheet as Henry Shefflin’s side collapsed.

The latter were 1-13 to 1-12 in front at the break and the consensus was that they should have been further ahead, but in retrospect it seemed as though the Munster kingpins had yet to find their groove.

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Gearoid Hegarty, Cian Lynch, Diarmaid Byrnes and Seamus Flanagan all had poor misses early on, while Cathal Mannion rattled a beautiful ball to the net on 15 minutes.

It helped the men from the west establish a six-point led by the 25th minute, at which time Galway had accrued 1-12, but they added just 0-6 in the remaining 50-odd minutes when injury time in either half is included.

Call it strangulation by Limerick, self-immolation by the Tribe, or some truth in between, there was no denying the 15-point swing in the direction of the champions after that early storm.

Brian Concannon’s goal chance on 30 minutes was, without question, the key moment as far as the vanquished were concerned.

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Mike Casey did what any good defender would do by retreating onto the line as Kevin Cooney burst through and handed the ball off, and the Na Piarsaigh man’s luck was in as the ball struck the bas of his hurley.

The harder you work, the luckier you get. Limerick then hit six of the final seven points of the half and that was the beginning of the end.

Joe Canning — who backed Shefflin to stay on for a few more years after the game — was critical of Galway’s tactics in the second half, suggesting that his county sat back and allowed Limerick work the ball in triangles from their defence.

While it is true that Conor Whelan, Cathal Mannion and Concannon had a minimal influence in the second half after impressing beforehand, the die had already been cast.

What the Tribe certainly failed to do was deliver quick ball inside after the break. At times, Kevin Cooney or Whelan or Concannon were in space and looking for the ball, but it didn’t come. Little wonder goals didn’t either.

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The first half, those three players were getting brilliant ball in, and feasting. As against Tipperary, Galway’s inside forwards played close to the opposition goalkeeper, and withdrew everyone else — looking to stretch the Limerick backs.

Eanna Murphy’s ability to disguise his puckouts until the final moment was exceptional at times, yet that fell apart eventually too.

Not that it was the goalkeeper’s fault alone, as his tiring teammates didn’t provide the same options as earlier in the game.

The truth of it is that Galway are far from the finished product. Evan Niland converted nine of ten frees but needs to do far more from play if he is not to be slated as a free-taker only.

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There have been great moments this season for Tom Monaghan, Ronan Glennon and Liam Collins, but they have physical maturing to do.

Some of the older players struggled too, and there may be a further changing of the guard in the next year or so.

Though it put Limerick only ahead by four at the time, Gillane’s second goal on 47 minutes was all she wrote.

Padraic Mannion will have had sleepless nights over kicking a ball to Cillian Buckley in the Leinster final from which Kilkenny got their winning goal, and the Ahascragh-Fohenagh man will be tossing and turning once more.

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Gillane batted a ball off the crossbar, Mannion stretched but could get only minimal contact on the ball, allowing the Limerick sniper to whip the ball to the net past Murphy.

When Daithi Burke missed an easy chance just after, it felt as though the energy ebbed from his team.

At the same time, Shefflin can feel aggrieved at several decisions that went against his men early in the second half.

Peter Casey is a brilliant player and won three frees in a row between the 38th and the 43rd minutes, but in at least two he absorbed contact and pulled the tackler down onto him. James Owens bought it each time.

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Tom Morrissey scored a nice point just a minute later after what seemed like ten steps from Seamus Flanagan.

In the first half, Owens had his arm half-raised to signal a free for Daithi Burke who was in traffic, but the whistle never went and then Peter Casey collected a turnover to score.

Limerick may feel they too deserved a couple more decisions but these were at key moments and were huge blows to a fading team. Concannon was lucky to not be red-carded when his hurley clipped Barry Nash in the midriff too.

This Treaty team continues to impress and they are now just 70 minutes away from achieving a rare four-in-a-row.

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They have done so without Sean Finn, Declan Hannon, and with Hurlers of the Year Lynch and Hegarty still searching for form.

No matter their struggles all season, their gameplan has remained. Patiently working the ball under pressure, and delivering considered ball inside.

Heart, skill, desire, passion, on-field intelligence, and relentlessness. They hit eight of the last ten points to coast home, created 46 chances to 32, and restricted Galway to just four efforts in the final 23 minutes.

It was a systematic destruction by the green machine, and there’s little sign of them going anywhere.

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